05/28/2011 11:30AM

Belmont Park: Sands Point lacks speed, putting Winter Memories in a bind

Keeneland/Coady Photography
Winter Memories, with Jose Lezcano riding, wins the Appalachian.

ELMONT, N.Y. – The multiple graded stakes winner Winter Memories figures to be an odds-on favorite against five rivals in Monday’s Grade 2, $150,000 Sands Point Stakes at Belmont Park, but there are several reasons handicappers may want to take a stand against her.

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First, Winter Memories has done her best running from off the pace and there doesn’t appear to be any significant speed signed up for this 1 1/16-mile race scheduled for the inner turf. Second, while her opponents are less experienced than Winter Memories, horses like Mystical Star and Naples Bay have run speed figures comparable to the favorite. Third, Winter Memories will be carrying 123 pounds, six more than the field.

“Winter Memories will be tough but she’s not the only one,” said Christophe Clement, the trainer of Mystical Star and Naples Bay.

Jimmy Toner, the trainer of Winter Memories, has great confidence in how well his filly is doing coming into the Sands Point, but he is concerned about the way the race could set up.

“I looked at it and said ‘Oh, please somebody has to go,’ ” Toner said. “There is no speed in the race. It’s going to be a strangle job for everybody. The only good thing is I’m outside because she does get rank on the inside.”

The other good news for Winter Memories is that she did overcome a slow pace to win last month’s Grade 3 Appalachian Stakes at Keeneland, albeit by a neck over Dos Lunas. Parting Words, who was third in that grace, is also back in the Sands Point.

Two intriguing challengers hail from the Clement barn. Mystical Star, a daughter of Ghostzapper, is 2 for 3 with a second-place finish to the three-time stakes winner Dynamic Holiday in the Herecomesthebride Stakes at Gulfstream. Naples Bay, a half-sister to the multiple Grade 1 stakes winner Medaglia d’Oro, is 2 for 2, including an allowance win over next-out stakes winner Diva Ash.

“Mystical Star will probably be on the pace or close to the pace,” Clement said. “Johnny Velazquez is riding her, wherever he’s comfortable will be great. Naples Bay is immature mentally but she’s got plenty of room to improve. She’s got two starts and two wins, it’s exciting.”

Arch Support, who finished second to Winter Memories last October in the Grade 3 Miss Grillo, did win her only race on the front end last July at Saratoga. Trainer Gary Contessa said he wouldn’t be surprised to see his filly up front on Monday.

“If the opportunity presents itself I would take it, but I don’t have to be on the lead,” Contessa said. “I’m not going to jack her to the lead, but she is kind of fresh and she has the speed to be there.”

Celestial Kitten comes off her best race, a maiden win going a mile at Aqueduct last month.